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Engineering boot camp Regarding "A View from the Top," (CSE 8/05, p.38), there's no question we need internship programs to bring new talent into the engineering community. But these programs must go beyond making presentations and public speaking. As an engineer who has worked in construction and design for many years, I am appalled by the consistently bad engineering that is out there.


Engineering boot camp

Regarding "A View from the Top," ( CSE 8/05, p.38 ), there's no question we need internship programs to bring new talent into the engineering community. But these programs must go beyond making presentations and public speaking.

As an engineer who has worked in construction and design for many years, I am appalled by the consistently bad engineering that is out there.

No matter that basic high school physics is often a mystery, there is also a complete lack of understanding of the building process among young designers—and this is the business we're in.

Engineering firms should insist on boot camps where young designers are forced out into the field to learn how things go together; what happens when you don't put things on drawings and what happens when you neglect things like RFIs and submittals. I've suggested such a program many times while working as a chief mechanical engineer at various consulting firms. Glazed eyes and a suggestion that there "isn't enough fee" is the typical response. But firms will turn around and spend five times as much trying to avoid lawsuits when things go haywire.

Internships are a good start, but let's make sure they are not a reinforcement of the current "forward-click" management craze, where responsibility is just passed on.

The business of engineering sure moves a lot of paper, and that seems to be what our business has been reduced to.


Katrina mandates planning, not code changes

I spent some time in New Orleans this past year working on a building that is part of Louisiana State University's School of Nursing, just a couple of blocks from the Superdome. As news of the disaster of Hurricane Katrina filled my TV screen, I sat in stunned silence worrying about the people I had met and made friends with. Later, I also wondered if many of the flooded low-lying areas of the city would ever be allowed to rebuild because of the city's below-sea level elevation.

I bring this up because the village of Estral Beach, Mich., where I served as fire chief for several years, found itself in a similar situation after a major flood in the early '70s. The village is on the western shores of Lake Erie and became prone to storm surges after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to raise the lake level to facilitate shipping. In the aftermath of the flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which authorizes flood insurance for communities, stepped in and issued building requirements that would qualify communities for flood insurance.

Specifically, no living area of a structure could be built below the 100-year flood elevation (with the raising of the lake, the village was now below the plain). No basements were allowed in the flood plain, and piping and tanks installed below the plain needed to be restrained to resist floating and wave action.

This latter requirement is often overlooked and not clearly defined. Calculations for wave action height should be based on the potential for winds, and wave heights in the given geographic area. In the area of Estral Beach, approximately 3 ft. is the given for wave action.This is on top of the roughly 5-ft. figure that accounts for the flood elevation. In other words, according to FEMA requirements, living quarters need to be about 8 ft. above existing grade. The mechanical portions of FEMA's requirements mandate that all equipment be mounted above the flood elevation. Piping and tanks must be restrained against floating or wave actions. These requirements assure the equipment will not get flooded and suffer mold issues or be torn out by wave action in a storm.

All new homes in Estral Beach are built with garages, storage areas, game rooms and shop space on ground floors with living quarters above. Walls that are perpendicular to the lake are made of reinforced concrete; walls parallel to the lake are stud walls that can break away with storm wave action.

Coming full circle, I wonder if this is what they will require in New Orleans. Frankly, I'm not sure it applies. In some low-lying areas there, buildings are as much as 12 ft. below sea level. In the event of a Category 5 hurricane with a 20-ft. storm surge, the flood elevation would be about 32 ft. above street level. It clearly is not practical to mandate that three or four floors of a home or business be non-living space. This could mean that FEMA may not allow any rebuilding in many low areas.

Of course there's a second issue encountered in Estral Beach that may also occur in New Orleans. FEMA's program was not tied to local building codes. As a result, when local code officials tried to enforce the FEMA requirements, many officials were threatened with lawsuits by developers. Yet FEMA informed these same officials that their community's flood insurance was in jeopardy if the integrity of the program was not maintained.

FEMA attempted to reconcile this problem with a proposal that their requirements be included in the model building, plumbing and mechanical codes. This met resistance, mostly from code officials who did not understand why they needed these FEMA requirements.

It seems to me that more money needs to be invested in the levees and clearing areas of the city that are very low. Maybe the low-lying areas could be made into parks or should be filled in to allow buildings to be rebuilt.

The only thing that is clear is that there are many unanswered questions. Will New Orleans survive? Does it make economic sense to rebuild in the path of another hurricane? I'm sure there will be a New Orleans in the future. It will probably be significantly downsized. I just hope it won't become a modern day Pompeii.


Education needed

The response from "Legionella: Be Proactive" ( CSE 5/05, p.44 ) author Frank Rosa in the August letters page satisfies some of my general concerns about the facts of Legionella, but I still disagree with July letter writer Christopher Wescott's statement that copper is "carcinogenic." Cu will react and dissolve in bodily fluids and is a trace element/metal necessary for metabolism, i.e., ceruloplasm. The effectiveness of the Copper-7 IUD might have been from Cu ions formed in situ. The macrotoxicology of the metals as LD50s and so forth may be obtainable, but the microtoxicity or contribution of trace/essential quantities are ill-defined. The suggestion that copper and implied copper-bearing objects are carcinogenic is imprudent.


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